Diversity and difference in communication
Diversity and difference in communication

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Diversity and difference in communication

5.2 Technologies of help?

Click to read: Technology, Selfhood and Physical Disabilty [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Activity 23

Timing: 0 hours 30 minutes

Read the chapter on ‘Technology, selfhood and physical disability’, by Deborah Lupton and Wendy Seymour.

Make some notes listing the positive attributes that the study participants identify as being helpful to their sense of self and their ability to engage more easily in relationships.

Compare your notes with the comments below and add anything you missed out.


I was interested to note that some of the study participants revealed that attributes such as control, avoiding embarrassment, as well as providing the means by which people could engage in society were important.

The study also revealed that the use of technologies as a means to overcome aspects of disability is not welcomed by all groups of disabled people. The example of cochlea implants to overcome deafness can be called ‘normalisation of impairment. Here the ‘deficit is overcome by a technical fix. You will explore the way this has been highlighted as a medical response to disability in Activity 25, but the focus here is that the means used to overcome impairment has other far-reaching consequences.

Lupton and Seymour also found that even those people who welcomed the values of technology in facilitating and enhancing communication expressed concerns about the way technology could highlight their difference and affect how people perceived them. For many participants, being identified as disabled could impact on the way other people treated and responded to them. You may remember Tom's statement about how the use of a white stick meant people not only identified him as being blind but also made assumptions about his intelligence. You might be familiar with the negative experiences of wheelchair users whose position can also construct them as being ‘lower human beings’.

Lupton and Seymour conclude by arguing that technologies can be conceptualised as tools that fit well into their own notions of self and body and that these seem to single people out as disabled’. What is particularly interesting from reading their chapter is that technologies highlight some of the complexities involved in the way disabled people are represented in society through their ‘disabled’ bodies.

Some issues of identity (which Lupton and Seymour call ‘selfhood’) and disability mean that people who are identified as being disabled might be labelled in a way that affects how people relate to them. This labelling could affect people's basic rights and their ability to communicate. However, as Ian, one of the participants, notes, while a wheelchair marks him out as being disabled, without it he would be in bed all day.

Clearly, while technologies can appear to help overcome some of the technical barriers associated with disability, this is only one aspect of the context of relationships. There are also wider issues related to the position of disabled people in society that affect the quality of communication. Sally French and John Swain are academics who write about disability. They argue that the medical model of disability orientates disabled people towards so-called ‘normality.’ For example, people are helped to walk, to see and to hear. Conversely, a social model of disability, rather than identifying the individual as a person with a problem that needs to be solved, instead argues that disability is a political issue. There are two points to note here. First, a medical definition of and response to ‘problems’ both defines the problem as being medical and, as such, constructs it as a medical event. Also, constructing something as a medical problem means it ‘requires’ a solution and the medical response is further justified. Secondly, this serves to individualise the problem and keeps the focus on the person with the disability and away from social causes and consequences. All of this adds up to what has been termed ‘blaming the victim’ (Ryan, 1971). Recognising that disabled people are in a position of relative powerlessness in society in comparison with so-called able-bodied people means there need to be different approaches to rectifying their position to one that is more just and equitable. However, the next two linked activities involve studying their chapter in the Reader with specific reference to issues of disability and communication.


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